Tampa Bay Lightning v Pittsburgh Penguins

How the Pittsburgh Penguins might deal with the loss of Evgeni Malkin

To some extent, the Pittsburgh Penguins haven’t been playing with the “real” Evgeni Malkin for about a season and a half. After winning the Art Ross Trophy with his league-leading 113 point season in 2008-09, Malkin’s been putting up relatively unimpressive numbers (77 points last season, 37 points in 43 games in 10-11).

In other words, it’s important to note that his health/game has been sliding for a while now. While Sidney Crosby’s concussions interrupted an astounding season abruptly, Geno’s injury seemed like the final straw rather than a sudden shocker.

That being said, it’s very possible that the 24-year-old Russian center would have found his rhythm over the next few months. The Penguins have played decent hockey with 80-percent Malkin, but what can they do without any Malkin whatsoever? Let’s study their options, some of which might bleed into each other.

Keep their feet on the accelerator

When we discussed Malkin’s struggles in January, one interesting theory surfaced: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s hard-charging, brawny style might not be a great fit for the Russian’s game. While Crosby’s willingness to go to “dirty goal” scoring areas fits well with this aggressive system, Malkin’s finesse game contrasts with that straight-forward mentality.

In the grand scheme of things, he will obviously be missed, but the Penguins can use the $8.7 million in cap space cleared by Malkin’s injury to lure some “rental” players to help fill some of the void (or at least bring that vision to fruition).

A healthy Crosby and Jordan Staal would present a solid one-two punch, so the Penguins don’t need to restrict their search to centers. Let’s glance at some pending free agents who might be worth a “rental.”

Sorting out potential trade targets of varying quality

(Click here if you want to do your own “scouting.”)

  • The Brad Richards dream: The Penguins would be one of the most interesting suitors in the very unlikely scenario of a Richards trade. The sublime passer’s cap hit is about $900K less than Malkin’s, so the trade could send monetary relief (plus draft picks and prospects) to Dallas for Richards. It’s still a long shot, though.
  • Square pegs in round holes: There are many fans in Pittsburgh who still hold a soft spot for enigmatic Russian Alex Kovalev, but he only really makes sense as a winger alongside Malkin. Jason Arnott is a slightly more realistic option, but he isn’t exactly a Swiss Army Knife of versatility either.
  • Right-handed shots would be a bonus: When the Penguins let Bill Guerin retire, they gave up their best right handed shot (at least among forwards). Two semi-interesting right handed snipers might become available: Michael Ryder and Milan Hejduk. Cap reasons would dictate Ryder’s move while Hejduk might become an option if the Avs slip out of playoff contention. Steve Sullivan, Teemu Selanne and Justin Williams would be even better options, but they are far less likely to be traded.
  • Two other interesting names: Speedy Sergei Samsonov and dirt-cheap playmaker Alex Tanguay could be interesting choices if the Penguins go for a buffet setup rather than one big splurge. Speaking of which:

Multiple moves?

Aside from that unlikely Richards scenario, the Penguins might try to mix and match players with some flaws rather than going for one big move. If any team can afford to give a player the Wade Redden treatment (stashing an expensive player in the minors if things don’t work out), it’s the deep-pocketed Penguins.

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The Penguins have at least some hope without Malkin, even if there will be plenty of times in which his world-class skills will be missed. Their system might be more seamless in his absence, with role players taking on bigger responsibilities. Most of all, though, the $8.7 million in cap space should come in handy. GM Ray Shero’s use of that space could be one of the most captivating storylines of this year’s trade deadline.

Sharks flip the script, tie Penguins heading into third period

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Tomas Hertl #48 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with teammates after scoring a second period goal against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game 1, no doubt about it.

Even so, the Sharks entered the middle frame down 2-0, and responded rather than shriveling up. They basically switched roles with the Penguins in the second period, ultimately tying things up 2-2.

The first goal was one Matt Murray would probably like back (even more than a goalie would want any goal back, mind you), as Tomas Hertl beat him five-hole for a power-play goal.

Witness the Sharks’ first-ever goal in a Stanley Cup Final:

Fittingly, a grizzled veteran and longtime face of the Sharks’ franchise tied it up, as Patrick Marleau made it 2-2 with a clever wraparound:

Which team will win the third period? Could we see overtime? Find out on NBC.

Report: Blues will bring back Hitchcock with one-year deal

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 21:  Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues walks on the ice in game four of the Western Conference Finals against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on May 21, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Yes, the St. Louis Blues fell short of the Stanley Cup Final, but they still broke some playoff hexes in 2015-16. Apparently Blues management saw enough to bring back Ken Hitchcock.

That’s the word from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos, who report that the Blues are expected to announce a one-year deal with the veteran head coach on Tuesday.

Friedman wonders if these one-year pacts (Hitchcock was on one for 2015-16 as well) may chase away other staffers:

When asked about these scenarios, Hitchcock seemed like he was in favor of experiencing a perpetual “contract year.”

“I scare myself because I think if I take long-term deal, I’m gonna get sloppy,” Hitchcock told Hockey Central at Noon and Sportsnet back in mid-May. “I want to stay on one-year deals.

For plenty of fans, it makes perfect sense to bring Hitchcock back after the Blues took steps forward.

Others wonder if Hitchcock’s style (which leans toward dump-and-chase and “gritty” hockey more than some other teams) may leave the Blues in the dust, however.

That’s a debate for a bar or a message board, yet one can see deeper logic in giving Hitchcock one more shot.

While the Blues have decisions to make – including what to do with free agent captain David Backes – the team is also structured to make another run. Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Kevin Shattenkirk and Colton Parayko all have deals that will expire after 2016-17, and each contract is a bargain.

If St. Louis believes that Hitchcock is the right fit for that personnel group, then it makes sense to give him another go.

Crosby, Rust and Sheary lead Penguins’ early charge

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Evgeni Malkin #71 after scoring a first period goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Generally speaking, the strategic talk heading into Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final focused on the San Jose Sharks’ deeper defense vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins’ blinding speed.

It’s very early, but so far: advantage Penguins.

Pittsburgh came roaring out of the gate in front of a boisterous Consol Energy Center crowd, but it took them a while to break through.

Once the Penguins did, they raced ahead to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals just 1:02 apart.

First, Bryan Rust kept his red-hot streak going with the 1-0 tally.

Moments later, Sidney Crosby made a beautiful pass to Conor Sheary to put the Penguins up two.

There were a few other moments in which the Sharks looked like they were really struggling with the Penguins’ speed, but Martin Jones made some saves that could be big if San Jose can gather its wits.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.